When he goes to work, Joshua Tillman performs as Father John Misty, a priest who is as much a confessor as a minister.
Sunday night, Tillman clocked in at Crossroads KC, where for about two hours he delivered to an attentive crowd of about 1,700 homilies and sermons on love, sex and the state of our doomed, self-indulgent world.
Tillman is touring on “Pure Comedy,” his third full-length album, released in April. He would play the album in nearly its entirety, opening his set with its first four tracks, starting with the title track, a melodic, ominous diatribe about religion, among other things: “Comedy, now that’s what I call pure comedy / Just waiting until the part where they start to believe / They’re at the center of everything / And some powerful being endowed this horror show with meaning.” Cue the laugh track.
He was backed by a small orchestra that delivered a wide range of sounds, from minimal helpings of guitar and percussion to dynamic flourishes and heaps of strings and keyboards.
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When he wasn’t strumming an acoustic guitar, he strode the stage, often histrionically, dropping to his knees and spreading his arms wide or engaging in other melodramatic poses, like some evangelical preacher or snake-oil salesman. Other times, he struck typical rock-star poses.
Especially on “Pure Comedy,” Tillman’s music resembles the sounds of early Elton John. The pedantic “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution” and “Pure Comedy” sound like lost tracks from “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”; other tracks sound akin to John’s “Tumbleweed Connection” and “Madman Across the Water” eras — sounds his large band re-created impressively. Other songs re-created the orchestral grandeur of Laurel Canyon pop/rock in the 1970s.
Tillman, the former drummer for Fleet Foxes, is notorious for breaking character and tossing snark at his audience. Sunday’s show was light on those moments, except for when someone yelled “Ryan Adams sucks,” referencing a Twitter war between Tillman and Ryan.
After agreeing with the sentiment, Tillman professed that to be in the music business “you have to suck” or something is wrong with you.
The set list dipped into his other two full-lengths, including the darkly romantic “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me” in which he admits his many flaws: “Aimless, fake drifter and the horny man-child mama’s boy to boot.”
After that song, he recalled his previous trip to Kansas City, when he patronized the Blind Tiger, a bar near Main and 39th streets, and said he’d visit it again.
Behind Tillman and the band, a video screen broadcast a variety of images and graphics, adding to the show’s splendor.
Other highlights: “I Love You, Honeybear,” the title track to his previous album; the one-two punch of “When the God of Love Returns, There’ll Be Hell to Pay” and “Birdie,” two “Comedy” tracks; and “Bored in the USA,” a diatribe filled with lines like “How many people rise and say / My brain is so awfully glad to be here / For yet another mindless day?”
The three-song encore included “The Ideal Husband,” in which the protagonist confesses to his wealth of weaknesses and errors — including forgetting to call home “when grandma died” — but insists he’d “make the ideal husband” and proposes putting “a baby in the oven.”
It was a sermon candidly told but with a typical Father John Misty perspective: We are all flawed and life can be a series of mishaps and bad decisions but in the end, love is the most rewarding choice of all.
Pure Comedy; Total Entertainment Forever; Things That Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution; Ballad of the Dying Man; When You’re Smiling and Astride Me; Nancy From Now On; Chateau Lobby No. 4 (in C for Two Virgins); Strange Encounter; Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow; When the God of Love Returns, There’ll Be Hell to Pay; Birdie; A Bigger Paper Bag; True Affection; Bored in the USA; Hollywood Forever Cemetary Songs; Real Love Baby; I Love You, Honeybear. Encore: So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain; Holy Shit; The Ideal Husband.